Keep in mind that the title for director John Korty's latest television story, "Eye on the Sparrow" (Monday on NBC), comes from a hymn: "His eye's on the sparrow and He's watching over me."

Then you'll understand that Korty considers this one, from a script by Barbara Turner, a rather special show about two unusual people, both of them blind and both of them determined to fight the system that prevented them from adopting children.

"This has strength and courage and dignity," said Korty. "Barbara Turner is a very subtle writer, and her script is determined not to be maudlin or sentimental."

Certainly, its credentials are respectable: It pairs Mare Winningham, whose "Love Is Never Silent" won the 1986 Emmy, and Keith Carradine, who won an Oscar for his song "I'm Easy," which he sang in Robert Altman's 1975 film "Nashville."

Director Korty's set of credits includes an Academy Award for the documentary "Who Are the DeBolts and Where Did They Get All These Children?" and his much-honored "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman" (1974) starring Cecily Tyson, which won nine Emmys. "DeBolts" also picked up an Emmy for its television airing.

Nor is this Korty's first experience with a story about the blind: In 1984, he directed Elizabeth Montgomery in a television movie, "Second Sight: A Love Story," based on Sheila Hocken's story about a blind woman and the man who helps break down her resistance to personal involvements.

Korty said he and Winningham, who played a hearing daughter of deaf parents in "Love Is Never Silent," laughed and vowed they'd have to be more careful about type casting. "But I'd rather do this type of thing rather than the macho stuff," he said.

Winningham and Carradine portray Ethel Hollars Lee and her husband, Jim, a blind couple who challenged the laws that prohibit the adoption of children by handicapped parents. "These were two strong, active people," commented Korty.

Turner's story follows Ethel from age 8 (played by Bianca Rose) through her brief time of sightedness, her return to blindness and her life to about age 40.

"They were not originally allowed to adopt kids," Korty explained. "They started to take foster kids, really difficult cases -- rambuctious teen-agers and babies that were about to be left in abandoned buildings -- and they convinced the authorities that they could do it. By now they have been foster parents to about 50 kids."

The Lees, who thought they were not able to have children of their own, later became biological parents as well.

"Barbara Turner met the Lees 14 years ago," said Korty. "She did not write the script on any kind of assignment. She researched it, wrote it on her own time, then had herself made one of the producers so she had some control over it. It was one of those good scripts that bounced around ... a very interesting script.

"We shot it in August. Originally it was going to be shot somewhere in the South, but for family reasons I didn't want to go on location and I knew that the Sacramento delta was used before in pictures about the south. It has similar vegetation.

"We didn't get Keith definitely until about four or five days before the start of shooting. What I thought was wonderful in this is that Keith has often played tough and strong and mysterious people and in person he is quite sensitive and personable a guy. He {James Lee} was very supportive of Ethel. She is the outgoing one, the go-getter.

"It's basically about people who want to take the same risks everyone else does ... Anyway, we're finding out the hard way that there are lots of people who are not emotionally prepared to be parents. They were."

Winningham prepared for her role by listening to tapes of Ethel Lee speaking, in her Missouri accent. "We had dinner with people who are high-functioning blind people -- that's what they call themselves, high-functioning -- men and women with executive jobs, who take subways and buses, work regular hours and lead very regular lives," said Korty.

"Some of these people say that sometimes they are described as arrogant. To the sighted people, blindness is one of the worst things that can happen to you; to a blind person it's not ... they're very aware of things. These blind people that we talked to were adamant that we would not portray them with maudlin sentiments.

"They value mobility very highly. They can tell when they pass an open door, for example, because of the changes in air current. They talk about radar a lot -- they all tend to feel an intuitive sense of radar. The Lees tend to talk about a coffee table that they kept bumping into because it was below their 'radar level'.

"Keith and Mare really worked ... I was just amazed at they way they could control their eyes: They never looked at each other and at the people they were working with.

"And Bianca Rose is one of the best child actresses I've ever worked with. She has a very adult understanding of what she's supposed to do. There was one scene in which she has no lines but her father is beginning to teach her Braille. I told her, 'I've got to see on your face that understanding that you're learning to read.' She did it perfectly.

"And it's great when you find a child actress who is still having fun being a kid."

Korty worked with Rose in 1984, when she was a photo double for little blond Aubrey Miller in "The Ewok Adventure," producer George Lucas' first television movie.

Korty started out, after experimenting with home-made filmmaking when he was a high school student, with a series of low-budget movies. "Crazy Quilt" was produced in 1966 for only $36,000. The show was filmed silent, with dialogue added later, although the process did not meet entirely with critical success.

"I really feel that most movies are overproduced," he said. "There are an enormous amount of things that never appear on the screen. To me, that just gets in the way."

Korty, a native of Lafayette, Ind. (his father was a student at Purdue University), grew up in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood. The Kortys lived briefly in Santa Monica, Calif., then returned to St. Louis. His first movie, made with second-hand film, was an animation, "The Hall of the Mountain King."

After he finished studies at Antioch College in Ohio, Korty continued to indulge his interest in animations. In 1971, the low-budget "Funnyman" featured his own animated spoofs. "Riverrun," an equally inexpensive film he made in 1970, includes some of his own photography. In 1983 he directed Lucas' animated feature "Twice Upon a Time."

His resume includes two theatrical movies, "Alex and the Gypsy" (1976) with Jack Lemmon and "Oliver's Story" (1978) with Ryan O'Neal and Candice Bergen; and the television movies "Resting Place" (1986) with John Lithgow; "The Haunting Passion" (1983) with Jane Seymour; "A Christmas Without Snow" (1980), which Korty wrote, with Michael Learned; "Forever" (1978) adapted from Judy Blume's book and starring Stephanie Zimbalist; "Farewell to Manzanar" (1976) by Jeanne Wakatuski Houston; "The Class of '63" (1973), "Go Ask Alice" (1972) and "The People" (1971).

Korty has written a new a story called "Holy Curiosity" that he hopes to take either to television or to the big screen. "It comes from an Albert Einstein quote where he said, 'Never lose a holy curiosity,'" he said.

"I think there's a real advantage from being from the Midwest," mused Korty. "If you're from the Midwest you have sort of a middle-of-the-country look at things, a non-neurotic view."

Mare Winningham and Keith Carradine as Ethel and Jim Lee in "Eye on the Sparrow."